The creative process involved in expressing one’s self artistically can help enhance the well-being of the artist and anyone else involved. That’s why people all over are dedicating their careers to Art Therapy, whiles are others are dedicating their time and talents for the same purpose by volunteering. People have been using the arts as a way to express, communicate and heal for all of humanity. In learning more about Art Therapy, I came across CoachArt, a social change organization whose mission is to improve the quality of life for children in California with chronic and life-threatening illnesses and their siblings by providing free lessons in the arts and athletics. They rely on volunteer mentors who are matched with patients for lessons that offer creative outlets as a distraction from pain, isolation and other ailments often associated with chronic illnesses. The organization’s guiding principle is to enhance the lives of chronically ill youth by tapping into the resources from the coaching community. Mentors from fields such as music, dance, theater, writing and sports, help bring this vision to a reality. CoachArt participates in the art of improving lives!
In wanting to learn more about the 'art of improving lives', I connected with Thyonne Gordon, Executive Director of CoachArt. She is responsible for keeping the lights on, keeping the doors open and the general run of business. She manages a staff of 14 employees and over 700 volunteers. Her background is in Business Management and Operations and she has a doctorate in Human and Organizational Development. She loves developing and growing organizations and people.
When and how did the organization begin?
CoachArt was conceived in 2000 by Zander Lurie in memory of his father, Dr. "Art" Lurie, a cardiac surgeon who loved teaching and mentoring children. Zander, together with family friend, Leah Bernthal, set out to create an organization that would enhance the lives of chronically-ill children by tapping into the abundant resources of the Greater Los Angeles community, particularly in the arenas of art, music and athletics.
CoachArt received nonprofit status in 2001, and spent the next 18 months creating a program that would fill a critical need in the community. Healthcare professionals, chronically-ill children and their families, and individuals interested in volunteering enthusiastically embraced the concept of matching pediatric patients with mentors for free, recreational lessons. In 2002, CoachArt launched a pilot Outpatient Mentoring Program at Children's Hospital Los Angeles, enrolling 50 patients in free arts and athletics lessons. Due to the emotional needs of our patients' siblings, the program was later expanded to include family members. CoachArt now serves over 2000 students a year in Northern and Southern California via Outpatient Mentoring, In-Hospital Workshops, Activity Clinics and Special Program Events.
How old are the patients that are involved in this unique program?
CoachArt works with chronically-ill children and their siblings, 6 to 18 years of age. Of the over 2,000 children served in 2012, approximately 70% were Latino, 14% were African American, 9% were Caucasian, 4% were Asian-American, and 3% were from other ethnic backgrounds such as Native American, East Indian or Middle Eastern. CoachArt works with approximately equal numbers of male and female students. CoachArt patients have been diagnosed with any of over 100 chronic illnesses.
Where do you find your volunteers and who are they?
Volunteers are a mix of professionals, community centers and other nonprofit partners (like nonprofits, corporations and organizations). Word of mouth is our best source of engagement while we also use Volunteer Search and other web based programs. We also go to corporate events and display at community events.
What type of lessons do patients like to participate in?
Lessons include Music (voice and instruments), Dance, Visual Art, Culinary, Basketball, Baseball and Soccer.
Where do the activities take place?
Activities take place in the home or local community centers partnering with CoachArt.
What type of effect have you seen these programs bring to the people involved?
CoachArt lessons make our kids and parents smile, laugh and have fun. We have no recorded data that documents healing affects yet, our parents and doctors tell us that they've seen increased motor skills, emotional outlooks and social engagement when kids participate in our programs.
Here's a story of a CoachArt youth:
Meet Brett (African American, music, pre-teen)
Brett’s family was in “no man’s land.” Their son Brett no longer was a hospital inpatient, but he was receiving debilitating outpatient cancer treatments. Brett wasn’t well enough to be at school or do normal activities, and he was sick and tired of treatments. That’s when CoachArt stepped in and gave Brett free lessons in art and music. Suddenly things began to change.
Adele, Brett’s Mother: “One day life was perfect and—boom--the next day it wasn’t. Our son Brett was a normal kid with two working parents. He loved sports. When Brett was 5, doctors discovered that a lump in his mouth was cancer, Embryonal Rhabdomysocarcoma. Brett was quite sick and my husband and I spent all our time taking care of him and researching treatments. To save his life, I stopped working to devote unlimited time to Brett. Our income was cut nearly in half and medical bills came pouring in. Brett couldn’t go to school, because his resistance was too low. Sports were out of the question. When CoachArt came into our lives, Brett was an outpatient undergoing cancer treatments, and couldn’t lead a normal life. His immune system was compromised, so his friends couldn’t visit and he had to stay homebound.
CoachArt changed all that. Sean, his first CoachArt mentor, gave him art lessons, which lifted his spirits and gave him a way to express himself. Sean treated Brett like any other kid, not like a sick kid. And Sean was there for Brett every week, whether Brett was full of energy or feeling totally awful. If Brett looked too tired to paint, Sean would come up with something else fun. Once he suggested that they kick the ball around the house, because Sean knew Brett would get a reaction from me. Brett loved that – a chance to feel like a mischievous kid.
Once Brett starting feeling better, he asked for piano lessons. CoachArt arranged for a new mentor – Tom, to give him weekly lessons. Just like Sean, Tom comes to our house every week, no matter what. I look forward to Brett’s lesson with Tom. Sometimes I even nap to the sound of their music and laughter. Without CoachArt it would have been impossible to give Brett these opportunities to be a happy, regular kid.”
Tom, Brett’s Volunteer Mentor: “I’m a Software Engineer. I have a good job and a nice life, but I didn’t realize what was missing until I found CoachArt.
I love piano, so CoachArt matched me up with Brett. All I had to do was go to this boy’s home and give him lessons. Easy. But little did I know how touched I would be by the experience of knowing Brett and his parents. Over the past two years Brett and I have been on an incredible journey, without ever leaving the piano bench. When we started, his music skills were rusty and his coordination was a bit off. Now he’s playing Mozart! Sometimes we’ll sit at the piano and Brett will confide in me about how he feels or how he’s nervous about a treatment. Other times we’ll talk about great composers.
Brett: “I want to be a good pianist and learn more. I love playing piano and I want to play everything! Right now I’m working on “The Wild Horseman” by Robert Schumann – it’s my new favorite.”
How can people get involved?
It's easy to get involved. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or call us at 213-736-2850 or send us a note to 3303 Wilshire Blvd. Suite 320 LA 90010 and we'll let you know exactly what you can do!
Through the arts and recreation programs provided, what success is expected from the patients?
Our programs are for fun and learning. The most we can assure is that the fun and learning will occur. Students will also be engaged so that they can take their mind off the illness affecting the family and focus on fun. We are not a therapy program so we do not proclaim any therapeutic effects. But we guarantee play!
What is the organization’s biggest hurdle at this point?
As with most nonprofits in these difficult times finding resources is always challenging. In particular, we need volunteers who live and can service the South LA area and the Oakland area of California. We also need funding to continue the great work being done by CoachArt.
What has been the biggest success thus far?
Our biggest success takes us back to our mission. We provide quality arts and sports programs for kids with chronic illness and they have LOADS of fun! We created a program for corporate partners to get involved. Our Volunteer Supervisor goes out and teaches about CoachArt and then people volunteer to support. The corporations will take a group of kids and teach them something for about a 2 hour period. We've done gardening, ginger bread house building, pizza making and even golf! The corporate volunteers have fun and of course, the kids have a blast. This collaboration has been a big success as we're able to service more kids and we get volunteers engaged pretty quickly to come on board as regulars.
Consider donating to CoachArt by visiting www.coachart.org or purchasing a copy of Thought Notebook Journal Issue 1 - 10% of sales go to support this organization.